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ACC-Big Ten Challenge Day 3

December 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Previewing Day 3’s Action

by Michael Protos and Alan Rubenstein

No. 15 Georgia Tech at Ohio State

Ohio State and Georgia Tech enter their challenge contest going in opposite directions. The Buckeyes opened the season with a loss at San Francisco and against San Diego State in the first round of the Maui invitational before recovering to win their last two against Central Michigan and Villanova on the road to a fifth place finish in the annual Pre-Thanksgiving tournament. Fortunately, Ohio State does not play any more teams from California this season. But they may quickly discover they have problems beating teams from many other states.

No team in college basketball has had a better start than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-0). They manhandled Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener of the Preseason NIT, then went to New York to beat top-ranked Connecticut and Texas Tech by a combined 38 points to win the Preseason NIT championship.

The Buckeyes need to develop a consistent offensive attack to challenge more opponents. Ohio State is only averaging 67.5 points through four games. Junior guard Tony Stockman, a Clemson transfer, has paced Ohio State with 17.5 points per game. The only other significant offensive threats for Ohio State have come from two sophomores – guard J.J. Sullinger with 12.8 points per game and forward Terence Dials with ten points per game.

Dials has been a beast on the boards, grabbing 10.5 rebounds per game. But Ohio State is only managing 36 rebounds per game as a team, while Georgia Tech has cleaned up the glass for nearly 41 rebounds per game. For Ohio State to beat the Yellow Jackets, Dials must dominate the paint and lead the team in scoring to open up the perimeter for Stockman and Sullinger, who are the only Buckeyes to drain more than two three-pointers this season.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is led by its strong backcourt. Sophomore guard Jarrett Jack has embraced the point guard responsibilities by dishing out 8.8 assists per game and adding 14.6 points per game. Junior guard B.J. Elder is the team leader, however, with 16.6 points per game. Add sharp-shooter senior guard Marvin Lewis and Georgia Tech has a lethal set of guards.

Yellow Jacket sixth man Ismail Muhammad was the surprise MVP of the NIT. He enters the challenge as Georgia Tech’s second leading scorer. Georgia Tech features a more balanced attack. He has proven to be another dangerous shooter, which will force Ohio State to rotate to cover him, creating opportunities for other Yellow Jackets. In addition to Muhammad, B.J. Elder (16.6 PPG), Jarrett Jack (14.6) and Marvin Lewis (14.0) are averaging in double figures.

Georgia Tech’s early season success has provided them with some confidence and they should be able to build on that throughout the season. Plus, they have too many weapons for Ohio State to overcome. The Buckeyes will have the home court advantage, which may help them keep the game closer than it otherwise would be. Either team is capable of a stellar or dismal performance on a given night. Although not receiving production from its post players, Ohio State will have a big advantage in talent and size in the interior. Ohio State will probably limit Muhammad now that he is an established offensive threat, but Jack and Elder will take advantage of their increased opportunities.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 70 Ohio State 55

Clemson at No. 23 Purdue

Purdue (4-0) enters the ACC/Big Ten challenge riding high off of the team’s recent success in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Boilermakers upset then No. 2 Duke en route to winning the tournament championship. The Boilermakers also claim wins over Samford, Texas State and Seton Hall.

Clemson also is undefeated at 3-0, but the Tigers have hosted the creampuffs of the South – beating Gardner Webb, High Point and Wofford. But Purdue should not take Clemson lightly because the Tigers have the makings of trouble for the Boilermakers.

Junior forwards Sharrod Ford and Olu Babalola and senior forward Chris Hobbs are a trio of good big men for Clemson. They each average better than fourteen points per game. Ford is averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. As a team, Clemson averages 47 rebounds while Purdue manages a shade over 35 per game. Vernon Hamilton (10.3 PPG, 5.0 APG), has also gotten off to a great start for Oliver Purnell

The Boilermakers use a senior laden, team-first approach that seems to be the backbone of Gene Keady’s most successful teams Purdue needs senior forward Chris Booker and sophomore forward Melvin Buckley to play well to limit Clemson’s opportunities in the paint. The Boilermakers’ defense stymied Duke, which facilitated the upset. But Clemson prefers to work the ball inside rather than focus on perimeter shots, so the Tigers will be looking for higher percentage shots.

Kenneth Lowe has emerged from Willie Deane’s shadow and appears to be ready to claim all Big Ten honors. Lowe is averaging 18 PPG and is second on the team in assists. Lowe will likely abuse Clemson’s less experienced guards Chris Booker’s all around game, Brandon McKnight running the offense and the Boilermakers aggressive defense have keyed their early season success. Duke could only connect on 38 percent of its field goals against the Boilers.

Purdue’s recipe for success will be to get Clemson’s big men in foul trouble because the Tigers have only seven players who average more than ten minutes per game. The Tigers also rely on freshman Vernon Hamilton to run the point, and Clemson is committing nearly 20 turnovers per game

Purdue may need to rely on its solid free throw shooting to pull out a tough win over a less talented but hard working Clemson squad. The Boilermakers are shooting nearly 80 percent from the line, while Clemson is terrible, shooting just 53.6 percent from the free throw line.

About all Clemson and Purdue have in common is that they return four starters. Although the Tigers have impressive statistics in their first four games, they have to prove they can play well against a formidable opponent. The Boilers have wins over Seton Hall and Duke, while the Tigers have yet to play a team that many knowledgeable fans have heard of. This one has all the makings of a blowout. The Mackey crowd and the Gene Pool should welcome home the Shootout champs and Purdue is likely to reciprocate the admiration with at least a 12-15 point victory.

Prediction: Purdue 68 Clemson 60

Minnesota at Virginia

The Gophers (2-1) and Cavaliers (3-0) are two evenly matched squads that need to improve several aspects of their game to do well in conference play. The Gophers beat UMKC in the first round of the Preseason NIT but lost at Utah and struggled to beat Furman in overtime. Virginia, meanwhile, has three wins against Mount Saint Mary’s, Virginia Tech and High Point.

Two of the nation’s best freshmen may be the highlight of this game as Minnesota’s Kris Humprhies leads the Gophers with 24 points and 10.7 rebounds per game while Virginia’s Gary Forbes follows with 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Forbes and Humphries should have solid games and will probably cancel each other out, so their teammates will make the difference.

Ben Johnson has shown flashes of the promise he showed while at Northwestern. Johnson dropped 32 on Furman in the Gophers’ most recent victory. He will face senior guard Todd Billet, undersized at 6’0 for an off-guard, against Virginia. Billet is a deadly shooter, but he does not create his own shot as well as Johnson. Johnson has a slight edge on Billet, which favors Minnesota.

Virginia has a young lineup and will need freshmen Donte Minter and J.R. Reynolds to play well against a more experienced Gopher team. Junior guards Maurice Hargrow and Adam Boone need to force Virginia to stretch the floor on defense, which could allow for second chance points. Boone knows the all about ACC play after playing at North Carolina for two years before returning home. Virginia has been out-rebounded in two of its three games, although both Minnesota and Virginia average 38 rebounds per game. Additionally, Virginia’s Majestic Mapp has made numerous comebacks from knee surgeries and leads UVA in assists off the bench.

Minnesota likely has more talent but is still trying to find its identity with many new faces. Both the Gophers and Cavaliers should be out to prove they are better teams than they have been in past years in front of a national television audience. The key to the game will be who can hit more clutch shots down the stretch. The more experienced Johnson has the edge on the rookie, Forbes, so Minnesota should pull out a close one.

Prediction: Minnesota 78 Virginia 75

No. 7 Duke at No. 8 Michigan State

Both Duke and Michigan State enter the premier clash of this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge with 3-1 records. Both team’s vulnerabilities were shown during early season losses last week. Michigan State lost a close battle at Kansas while Duke lost to Purdue in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that Duke’s offense has not been firing on all cylinders yet. And Duke has not had much time to return from Alaska to prepare for another road trip to Lansing, Mich., to face Michigan State.

But Duke features a lineup full of sharp shooters, who can catch fire at any moment. And Duke tends to play best in the big games. Michigan State must aggressively defend senior guard Chris Duhon, junior guard Daniel Ewing and sophomore guard J.J. Redick, or else any one or two of these players could finish with more than 20 points.

But Duke must shoot the ball better to succeed against the Spartans. Purdue’s rugged defense forced the Devils into 38 percent shooting from the floor, including only 22 percent from three-point range. Luol Deng, Reddick and Shelden Williams were the only Blue Devils to finish in double figures. On the season, Duke is only shooting 41.1% from the floor. Their ability to get the foul line has fueled their way to victory in three of four games this season. The Blue Devils have made 18 more free throws than their opponents have attempted.

The Spartans began a brutal non-conference schedule with a loss at Kansas. After trailing by double digits in the first half, Michigan State was able to cut deficit to four late in the second half but was unable to get closer. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Michigan State breezed by Penn and De Paul on their way to the Coca-Cola Classic title.

Freshman Shannon Brown has been impressive. The freshman has shown an array of aerial moves and is averaging 10.0 PPG off the bench. Paul Davis (13.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG), Chris Hill (12.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) and Kelvin Torbert (11.0 PPG) are the foundations that Tom Izzo hopes to build this year’s team around.

Junior guard Chris Hill and junior guard Kelvin Torbert will shoulder the responsibility of slowing down Duke’s fast-paced running game and prevent the shooters from finding open looks from three-point range. Michigan State is a better rebounding team, but sophomore center Paul Davis will have his hands full trying to keep freshman forward Luol Deng, sophomore forward Shelden Williams and sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph off the glass.

The most interesting individual battle will be between Hill and Duhon. Hill has better statistics than Duhon so far this season, but he has not played anyone of Duhon’s caliber. Duke does not want to let Hill light up the scoreboard like Purdue’s Kenneth Lowe did, so Duhon will be all over Hill for the entire game.

For Michigan State to win, the Spartans cannot allow Duke to have multiple scoring runs. Duke loves to maintain a lightning quick game and score in spurts. Michigan State enjoys an experience advantage that should help the Spartans avoid turnovers. Although Duke has the size advantage, Michigan State has a more versatile team and is more accustomed to playing a grind it out style.

Coming off a loss, Duke should adjust well to get the offense going. Redick and Ewing in particular will have big games while Duhon will limit Hill’s effectiveness. In the paint, if Duke can maintain a stalemate with Davis and the Michigan State forwards, the Blue Devils have the advantage in this game. If the game comes down the last possession, the Spartans have more options than Duke. If Duke has the ball last, the last shot is likely to be in the hands of Deng or Reddick. Tom Izzo can be confident in any of six players to take a money shot with the game on the line. Either way, the Izzone is in for a thriller in East Lansing.

Prediction: Duke 82 Michigan State 74

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